You’ve asked and we’ve answered. We have responded to your top questions on reporting child sexual abuse.
I am a volunteer soccer coach for children. What should I do if a child reports to me that either he or she has been abused or another child has been abused?
The answer to this question holds true for persons who are mandated reporters as well as individuals who may receive such information from a child. It is important to listen intently without probing the child for more information or passing judgment. Tell the child that you believe him or her and will contact an authority for help. Then, call your local child protective services (CPS) or law enforcement agency to get their assistance. (back to top)
How do I report sexual abuse in my state?
The process for reporting abuse varies from state to state. However, it is always best to contact law enforcement or CPS to report alleged abuse, neglect, or exploitation. The Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline professional crisis counselors can connect a caller with a local number to report abuse. Contact Childhelp at 1-800-4ACHILD (1-800-422-4453). (back to top)
I am a member of a tribal community. Whom should I contact?
Reporting child abuse on reservations can be complex. If there is knowledge, or suspicion, that a child is being abused, you should contact tribal law enforcement authorities, CPS or Indian child welfare. If these resources are not available, contact your state’s child protective services. (back to top)
Who has jurisdiction to investigate child sexual abuse cases on Indian reservations?
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA; Public Law 96-608; 25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.) provides that federally recognized Indian tribes and Native Alaskan villages have jurisdiction over child welfare cases. The act also established new litigation standards for state court cases involving Indian children. (back to top)
Is it against the law not to report?
Yes. Failure to comply with the law particular to your state is a crime. (back to top)
What information do I need before reporting?
Any information you, as a member of the general public, can provide about the alleged abuse would be helpful. If possible, it is helpful to know the names and addresses of the child and parent, the child’s age, the type of abuse, and any other information that will help establish the type of abuse or identify the abuser. Remember, however, that trained professionals — law enforcement and CPS — should do the actual interviewing, information gathering and investigation.
If you are a mandated reporter, authorities will ask for the aforementioned information as well as any notes, files, pictures, or other evidence regarding the alleged abuse. (back to top)
What if I have second-hand knowledge of the abuse and I am unsure whether my report is reliable? Can I be liable?
No. Reporters are protected from liability for good faith reporting. You cannot be found liable if your report turns out to be unfounded. (back to top)
Am I mandated to report abuse?
Approximately 48 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands designate certain professions whose members are mandated by law to report child maltreatment. Individuals designated as mandatory reporters are typically public and private officials who have frequent contact with children, including:
How can I report if the parent does not cooperate?
Even if a parent is not cooperative, you may still report the abuse to child protective services and/or law enforcement. They have the authority to ask for a court order giving the assigned caseworker permission to talk to or examine children, visit the home or receive health records.(back to top)
If I am unsure whether to report, what is the best course of action?
You should discuss the situation with your local child abuse office or call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline. If you are in doubt about what should be reported, it is better to make your concerns known than to remain silent. (back to top)
Will the child be placed in protective custody and away from the parent?
Children are placed away from their parents only when it becomes necessary to protect them from immediate harm or from continuing abuse or neglect. (back to top)
Can I report child sexual abuse to a teacher at the local school?
Yes, teaching is one of the professions mandated by law to report child maltreatment. You may report your knowledge or suspicion that abuse is occurring to a teacher and have that person make a report to the proper authorities. (back to top)
What if the abuse isn’t current?
The reporting requirement does not apply to abuse or neglect that occurred during childhood if it’s discovered after the child has become an adult. However, if there is reason to believe that other children are or may be at risk of abuse or neglect by the accused, the requirement does apply. (back to top)
Will I have to give my contact information when making a report?
Any person, except a mandated reporter, who reports child abuse may remain anonymous. If you are willing to give your name and telephone number to the social worker or law enforcement officer taking the report, it would be helpful in the event he or she needs to obtain more information later. Your contact information is confidential and will be protected to the full extent allowable by law. (back to top)
If there is reason to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect, the report must be made at the first opportunity. If known, the report must include the identity of the accused. (back to top)
Is there a statute of limitations on reporting child sexual abuse?
Yes. The length of the statute varies depending on the state. Many states have extended their criminal and civil statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse cases. Please check your state law on this issue. (back to top)
Who handles the report when I first make a call?
If you are reporting to child protective services, your report will be taken by an intake worker who screens the case based on the information given. If the information indicates possible abuse, the report will be given to a caseworker to get more in-depth information and determine whether abuse occurred and whether a child is at risk of further harm. When you report to law enforcement, your report will be taken by either an officer or investigator. (back to top)
If I make a report, what happens next?
Though the process varies state by state, generally the filed report will be investigated by a CPS professional through interviews with all children in the home, parents, friends, relatives, and any other person who may have information about the child and family. CPS and law enforcement will also decide whether the child is at risk for further harm and develop a plan for service and further investigation. (back to top)
Whom can I contact for more information on child sexual abuse?
Here is a list of organizations, along with a brief description of each, that provide further information about child sexual abuse.
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) is a nonprofit national organization focused on meeting the needs of professionals engaged in all aspects of services for maltreated children and their families. Especially important to APSAC is the dissemination of state-of-the-art practices in all professional disciplines related to child abuse and neglect.
Childhelp® Childhelp operates a National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD®), which takes calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week for questions on alleged abuse and how to make a report. Childhelp® aims to meet the physical, emotional, educational and spiritual needs of abused, neglected and at-risk children through advocacy, prevention, treatment and community outreach.
Children’s Advocacy Centers A children’s advocacy center is a child-focused, facility-based program in which representatives from many disciplines — including law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy, and child advocacy — work together to conduct interviews and make team decisions about investigation, treatment, management and prosecution of child abuse cases.
Child Welfare Information Gateway Child Welfare Information Gateway connects child welfare and related professionals to comprehensive information and resources to help protect children and strengthen families.
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) operates a 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678) for reports on missing and exploited children. The mission of the organization is to serve as the nation’s resource on the issues of missing and sexually exploited children. NCMEC provides information and resources to law enforcement and other professionals, parents and children, including child victims.
U.S. Administration on Children, Youth and Families This agency administers the major federal programs that support the positive growth and development of children and their families, protective services and shelter for children and youth in at-risk situations, and adoption for children with special needs.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services This is the United States government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.